Govt must start delivering on disability promises – Brendan Smith

– 78% of children with disabilities waiting longer than statutory timeframe for Assessment of Need –

– 50% increase in number of children waiting longer than 12 months for Speech and Language assessment of or therapy – 

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Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says this government is failing children with disabilities as waiting lists for early intervention and treatment plans continue to increase.

A new report from children’s charity Barnardos reveals that 78% of all children with disabilities are waiting longer than the statutory maximum three month wait for an assessment.

Deputy Brendan Smith said, “The figures contained in this report are truly shocking – it reveals the true state of our disability services, which are simply not able to keep up with the demand being placed on them.  Not only are the majority of children waiting over three months for an assessment, there has also been a 50% increase in the number of children waiting more than a year for an initial speech and language assessment or therapy appointment.

“I welcome the fact that additional money was allocated in the Budget for children’s disabilities services, however it’s delivery that’s the real problem.  The health budget has grown year on year under Fine Gael, but waiting lists have never been longer.  Minister Finian McGrath needs to get a grip on this crisis and ensure that disability services are properly managed.

“It’s unacceptable that children with disabilities are missing out on vital treatments, services and supports that are crucial to improving their quality of life.

“This government needs to start following up its announcements with concrete measures on the ground.  Children’s health and well-being are at stake here and the delays, which are plaguing our health system must be addressed as a matter of priority”.

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Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss challenges, barriers that face returning Irish emigrants

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The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence will discuss the challenges and barriers that face returning Irish emigrants on Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Scheduled witnesses include

  • Chief Executive Karen McHugh from the emigrant support service Safe Home Ireland,
  • Danielle McLaughlin, policy officer for the Crosscare Migrant Project, and
  • Ciara Kirrane, information and policy officer for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas.

“Irish people who have lived abroad for many years may hold dreams of resettling back home one day, but the reality often means difficult searches for employment and housing as well as restricted access to state supports,” said Committee Chairman Brendan Smith TD. “The Committee will hear a range of perspectives on these difficulties and seek to identify possible remedies.”

The meeting in Committee Room 1 can be viewed live here.

Media enquiries:

Shawn Pogatchnik
Committee Press Officer
Houses of the Oireachtas
Leinster House
Work +353 1 618 4203
Mobile +353 86 701 3295
shawn.pogatchnik@oireachtas.ie
https://www.oireachtas.ie
Twitter: @OireachtasNews

Border farmers may miss out on essential funding – Brendan Smith TD

TAMS II

– Only one quarter of TAMS II funding has been spent –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says he’s very worried that farmers in the border region will lose out on farm improvement funding because the system is simply too bureaucratic.  He was responding to new figures released to his party which reveal that more than €300m of funds under the TAMS II scheme for farmers remains unspent.

Deputy Smith explained, “I find it shocking that five years into a seven year funding programme, less than one quarter of the available money has been spent.  A total of €395million was allocated to the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme 2 (TAMS II) 2014-2020, however, to date, only €92.4m in payments have issued.

“TAMS II is an essential revenue source for farmers who want to upgrade their farms as it provides funding for farm buildings and equipment.  However, the level of funding which has been drawn down so far is worryingly low, and I fear it’s indicative of the amount of bureaucracy involved.

“There were delays in the rollout of the online application process, and even when it got up and running, there were concerns about the amount of red tape involved.  Many farmers became disillusioned with the process and chose not to lodge claims for approved works.

“Last year the Department of Public Expenditure carried out a spending review of the scheme and flagged issues with the ongoing underspend within TAMS II. Due to the inspections regime, the review said there is “often a delay between applicants making a payment claim and a payment being made”.  This will come as no surprise to the thousands of farmers who are overburdened by paperwork.

“I have serious concerns that all of the TAMS II funding may not be spent within the timeframe.  Minister Creed needs to take charge of the situation and ensure that farmers across Cavan and Monaghan do not lose out as a result of this overly bureaucratic system.  More than €300m needs to be spent between now and the end of 2020 – it is essential that these funds are allocated without delay”.
TAMS II payments

 

Need to restore political institutions in Northern Ireland – Brendan Smith TD

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I have been continuously highlighting through Parliamentary Questions and in other Debates in Dáil Éireann the urgent need to have the political institutions restored in Northern Ireland.

It is totally unacceptable that the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have not been functioning for almost 2 years.  The electorate in Northern Ireland elected the Members to the Assembly and there is a grave onus on them to have the Assembly and Executive working on behalf of all the people.

At a critical time in the history of these islands Northern Ireland should have their voice heard through a working Executive.

Below are replies from the Foreign Affairs Minister to the most recent Parliamentary Questions I tabled on this very important issue –

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For Oral Answer on : 20/11/2018
Question Number(s): 106  Question Reference(s): 48072/18
Department: Foreign Affairs and Trade
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.

______________________________________________

QUESTION

REPLY

Question No. 106
Parliamentary Question – Oireachtas

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of the most recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the political parties in Northern Ireland in relation to the need to have the Assembly and Executive restored; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Brendan Smith.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 20th November, 2018.
Ref No: 48072/18

REPLY

Since the Northern Ireland Assembly elections of March 2017, the Irish and British Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, have worked tirelessly to support and facilitate the parties in their efforts to form a new power-sharing Executive.

Unfortunately, to date, it has not proved possible to reach an agreement on the formation of an Executive, despite intensive engagement.  The absence of the Executive also means that the North South Ministerial Council cannot meet.

I am currently engaging with Secretary of State Bradley on how both Governments can most effectively secure the full operation of all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. I met with Secretary of State Bradley in Dublin on 17 September, in Belfast on 8 October, and most recently in Dublin on Friday 2 November at the British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference. I spoke further with the Secretary of State by telephone on Monday 12 November.

Both Governments are continuing to engage with all of the political parties to seek a way forward to get the Institutions up and running again. All parties have re-affirmed their commitment to operating the devolved institutions and have provided views on their key concerns and issues.

In the period ahead, I believe a new political process is required to get beyond the current impasse and secure the necessary agreement between the parties on operating the devolved institutions again.

I do not underestimate the way to go in achieving that, but I firmly believe that a resolution is possible and that the calls from across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland for the devolved institutions to operate will be heeded.

The Government is acutely conscious of the challenges that the UK exit from the European Union has presented for the political process in Northern Ireland and the totality of relationships addressed by the Good Friday Agreement. The Government has worked intensively with the Commission Task Force and all of our EU partners in the Article 50 process with the UK to secure the draft Withdrawal Agreement which was agreed between the EU and UK negotiators and published on 14 November, and which is now being considered by EU Member States and the UK. The Taoiseach has confirmed that the Withdrawal Agreement will protect the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the Peace Process and avoid a hard border on the island.

The Taoiseach and I in our engagement with the British Government and the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland have consistently underlined that, regardless of the challenges of the UK exit from the Union, there remains a pressing need to secure the operation of the devolved power-sharing institutions of the Agreement, which are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Government will continue to do everything in its power, in accordance with its responsibilities as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions.

______________________________________________
For Oral Answer on : 20/11/2018
Question Number(s): 112 Question Reference(s): 48073/18
Department: Foreign Affairs and Trade
Asked by:  Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

REPLY

Question No. 112

Parliamentary Question – Oireachtas 

To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the issues discussed at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Brendan Smith.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 20th November, 2018.
Ref No: 48073/18 

REPLY

A meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) took place in Dublin on 2 November.  The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan TD, and I represented the Government.  The UK Government was represented by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, David Lidington MP, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley MP

Set up under the Good Friday Agreement, the Conference brings together the Irish and UK Governments to promote bilateral co-operation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of both Governments.  Following on from the BIIGC in London on 25 July, the meeting on 2 November provided the opportunity to continue our discussions on legacy issues, security co-operation, East-West matters, and political stability in Northern Ireland.

At the meeting, we reaffirmed our commitment to implementing the framework established in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement to comprehensively address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past, taking account of the UK Government’s public consultation on establishing the legacy institutions.

On security co-operation, both Governments recalled the commitments made in the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement to ending paramilitarism and welcomed the first report of the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) established under that Agreement. In considering the findings and recommendations contained in the report, the Conference noted in particular the IRC’s view that the full operation of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement is essential to ending paramilitarism and achieving community transformation.

The Conference discussed a joint paper by Irish and British officials which outlined a number of possible models to maintain and strengthen the high level of bilateral co-operation between Ireland and the UK after it leaves the European Union.  Both Governments agreed that these new structures for systemic bilateral co-operation should demonstrate the strength and depth of the relationship, provide opportunities for ministers and officials to continue to engage with each other, and provide an overall architecture for cooperation that is both meaningful and sustainable in the future.

As announced following the Conference, this model would include top level summits involving Heads of Government and senior ministers and would alternate between locations in Ireland and the UK.  These summits would be supported by close bilateral work by ministers.  Officials on both sides have been asked to turn these ideas into a detailed practical plan of work with a view to presenting a fully worked through proposal for future East-West cooperation for consideration at the next meeting of the Conference.

The Conference provided both Governments the opportunity to reaffirm our strong support for the Good Friday and subsequent Agreements.  It was recognised that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement have been essential for the progress made in Northern Ireland over the past two decades and that they remain the indispensable framework for the political process in Northern Ireland.  Both Governments reiterated their shared commitment to securing the operation of the devolved power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly and the consequent resumption of meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council at the earliest opportunity.

It was agreed that the BIIGC would reconvene in Spring 2019.

Local Authority house loan conditions must be amended – Brendan Smith TD

The very low take-up of the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan clearly shows that this Scheme is not working and the Minister must amend its conditions.

In the past Local Authority House Loans were much sought after and a sizeable percentage of first time homeowners got their loan through that Scheme.

The requirement to have a 10% deposit of the market value of the property is a very big demand on potential first time homeowners because of the rental costs today and the difficulty it poses for people trying to put a deposit together.

Another difficulty for people on low incomes and seeking housing is the failure of the Government to raise income eligibility limits to a realistic level for Council housing.  A review of income limits has been promised and promised but still no decisions.

Below recent Dáil replies on these important issues.

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 20/11/2018
Question Number(s): 658 Question Reference(s): 48036/18
Department: Housing, Planning and Local Government
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government his plans to lower the required deposit level for local authority house loans in view of the difficulties for potential applicants in achieving the required deposit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

The Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is designed to enable credit worthy first-time buyers, who are unable to access a mortgage from a commercial lender to obtain sustainable mortgage lending to purchase a new or second-hand property. The low rate of fixed interest associated with the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan provides first-time buyers with access to mortgage finance that they may not otherwise have been able to afford at a higher interest rate.

To support prudential lending and consistency of treatment for borrowers, a Loan to Value ratio of 90% applies to the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan as per the Central Bank’s prudential lending guidelines. Therefore, in order to avail of the loan, applicants must have a deposit equivalent to 10% of the market value of the property.

Applicants must provide bank or similar statements (such as post office, credit union, etc.) for a 12-month period immediately prior to making an application, clearly showing a credible and consistent track record of savings. The cash savings should be no less than 3% of the market value of the property. Gifts are permissible up to 7% of the market value of the property, where their source is verified.

Given the need to administer the loan in a financially prudent manner, in order to protect the financial position of both the borrower and the State, I have no plans to reduce this deposit requirement.

______________________________________________
For Oral Answer on : 14/11/2018
Question Number: 98 Question Reference: 47079/18,
Department: Housing, Planning and Local Government
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

* To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties facing many families on low incomes that are ineligible for social housing due to the low income eligibility limits; his plans to improve the income thresholds in areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Brendan Smith T.D.
For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 14 November, 2018.

REPLY

The Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011 prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard Household Means Policy.

The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household’s basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. It is important to note that the limits introduced at that time also reflected a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation, in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn, both promoting sustainable communities and also providing a degree of future-proofing.

As part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area, including Cavan and Monaghan, is underway. The Housing Agency is continuing to carry out the detailed statistical work, which will underpin this review on behalf of my Department.

The review will have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.

 

No room for complacency in Brexit preparations – Brendan Smith

Brexit image– Businesses, farmers and peace process must be protected – 

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has paid tribute to the teams of politicians and officials from the EU and Britain who have been working on the withdrawal agreement, but has described Brexit as “absolute political and economic folly”.

Deputy Smith was speaking during a Dáil debate earlier this week.

“This withdrawal agreement remains, at very best, the second-best available option. The best option remains Britain remaining in the European Union.  At this stage, we should not completely discount the possibility that a cross-party political consensus can be built in the House of Commons for a second Brexit referendum, a referendum where the option to remain within the EU is on the ballot paper.

“While the issue of holding a second referendum is a matter for the Parliament in Westminster alone to decide, we should not deny that we have a vital, national interest in that discussion and, obviously, in its outcome.

“Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has strongly argued, particularly in the past week, that the draft withdrawal agreement represents the worst of all worlds for Britain. He called it an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable as it tries to keep Britain in step with Europe’s trade rules while, at the same time, reserving the right to depart from them. Mr. Blair outlined the myriad complexities still to be confronted in everything from fishing to mobile telephony, and that is apart from the Government of the day dealing with its day-to-day challenges, and all of these problems are before we get to the issue of the Border and the backstop. Tony Blair and John Major, both of whom contributed so much to the peace process on this island, explicitly warned politicians during the referendum campaign that Brexit would have serious and damaging consequences for the Irish Border and the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The fact that both of these issues are comprehensively addressed in the withdrawal agreement and were not left to the negotiations on future arrangements should remind British decision makers of their massive importance to both us and the entire EU 27 and of their continuing centrality to the process.

“It is a credit to the work of civil servants here along with their counterparts across the European Union, especially in Brussels, that the Irish Border and the Good Friday Agreement were identified as one of the three key issues to be addressed in the first round of talks between the European Union and Britain. In my own work on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence and on the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I have, along with colleagues from all parties and none, engaged actively with parliamentarians from most of the other EU member states, and particularly with colleagues from Britain, on these critical issues. We have outlined the concerns of the Irish people, North and South.

“However, the fact that so much of the draft withdrawal agreement is devoted to these issues should not cause us to imagine that all is well and that all possible and potential concerns have been finally addressed. There has been much focus among pro-Brexit Members of Parliament and the media on a phrase that appears on page 302 of the draft agreement. That paragraph reads, “Recalling the Union’s and the United Kingdom’s intention to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing”.

“There is increasing chatter and commentary in the media suggesting that the British government may have some wriggle room around the definition of the phrase “alternative arrangements”. Some are saying that the Brexiteers within the British Cabinet see the lack of clarity about what this phrase may mean as allowing them to load expectations onto the words. One such expectation is a return to the nonsense talk of some months back regarding technological solutions and the infamous maximum facilitation, “max fac”. We in this House need to make it clear that the definition of “alternative arrangements” is not for the Brexiteer wing of the Tory Party to decide. It is a matter for the EU 27 and Ireland must be 100% satisfied about any alternative arrangements. That means no change from the current day-to-day operations of the Border, which is a border I cross many times a week as I go about my normal constituency activity.

“The reality is that there is no such thing as a good Brexit deal. The ongoing political instability in Britain, including the uncertainty of the political viability of this draft agreement, makes it absolutely essential that the government steps up its work to have detailed contingency plans in place for all eventualities. It is to be hoped those plans would never need to be operated or called into use.

“I agree with my colleague, Deputy Breathnach, that it is shameful that there is no voice representing the people of Northern Ireland. It is so regrettable that at a time when Northern Ireland needs a clear voice coming from an assembly and an executive, a government, such a voice has now been absent for most of two years. The political system in the Dáil and in this State has worked very hard, consistently, and constructively in supporting the Government in its efforts to ensure that there is a good deal and that we are not impacted adversely by Brexit”.

Need to improve services in Cavan/Monaghan for victims of Domestic Abuse – Brendan Smith TD

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The work of Women’s Aid needs to be given maximum support in dealing with all domestic abuse issues.

I have been highlighting to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the need to improve services and provide refuge facilities in Cavan and Monaghan for victims of domestic abuse.

Recent Parliamentary Question attached –

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 08/11/2018
Question Number(s): 246 Question Reference(s): 46355/18
Department: Children and Youth Affairs
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if funding will be provided in her Department’s estimates for 2019 towards the improvement and the provision of facilities in counties Cavan and Monaghan for victims of domestic abuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual or gender-based violence, whether in the context of the family or otherwise. Accordingly, Tusla has provided funding for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services since its foundation in 2014. This includes services in Counties Cavan and Monaghan.

In 2018, Tusla is providing €23.8 million in funding to domestic, sexual and gender based violence services, an increase of €1.7m over 2017 funding. This includes funding for some 59 services throughout the country.

Tusla is aware that there is unevenness in the availability of specialist emergency domestic violence accommodation around the country. Additional requirements for services, in particular in areas where emergency domestic violence accommodation is not currently available, including Cavan and Monaghan, will be considered as part of Tusla’s commissioning processes in 2019. Tusla has engaged with stakeholders in the Cavan/Monaghan area about developments in this regard.

Tearmann Services provide support services to women across Cavan and Monaghan who experience domestic violence. Tusla funding to Tearmann in 2018 was €264,000.

At all times, Tusla’s key priority is to ensure that the needs of victims and survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence are met in the best way possible, with due attention to the quality, accessibility and outcome of services.